Columnist Rich Brooks wrote an editorial in the HeraldTribune, a Southwest Florida newspaper, assailing the use of the Mac in the classroom. I e-mailed a response to him this afternoon. Here's what it said:
As someone who has experienced the joys and dismays of working on both platforms, I wanted to respond to your article about schools and PC’s and the Mac platform in general.
I started out life on the PC back in 1986 or so when the PC I could afford used an IBM 8088 CPU, DOS was the operating system, and Wordstar was the word processor of choice. I wanted a computer to help me write and perform desktop publishing. Several friends advised me to get a Mac; but like you argued, I decided to go with the platform that would be compatible with the systems being used at my job. So, I went with DOS and Windows. Almost twenty years later, I now know the decision was a huge mistake. If I had back all the time I spent learning the intricacies of DOS and Windows and troubleshooting them, I could write fifteen novels. I have become very good at troubleshooting and even building PC’s, but that was not what I had intended to do. It became a matter of survival.
In your article, you completely ignored the problems with viruses, crashes, etc that seem to plague Windows platforms much more than the Macs. While Windows XP is a more stable platform than any of its predecessors, I still find myself often trying to troubleshoot why something isn’t working before I can start the real work I came to do on it. Schools typically have very limited IT budgets and staff; and, in many schools, teachers fill in the gaps. While the initial buy into the Mac platform is often higher (and some systems are competitive with similarly priced PC’s), the overall lifetime costs may be lower. Certainly, I spend a lot less time troubleshooting systems because I have mostly switched to the Mac platform, and that is an intangible cost often not considered. The fact that Macs are not currently plagued with virus problems is a huge plus, especially in an academic environment. I didn’t see you address that at all
I had been struggling for several years with editing and producing videos on the Windows platform when I married a Mac user. I wasn’t impressed with her little iMac running OS 9. Windows 98 seemed to have more functionality than it did. Then Apple released OS X and the flat panel iMac. My wife wanted both; so, I bought her them. She got my attention when, without cracking a book, she burned a DVD slideshow complete with music twenty minutes after starting the task. I was impressed!
I can tell you for a fact the Mac platform is better for video production. The new G5’s have kicked up Mac performance where it is competitive with the PC’s, and Mac software, Final Cut Pro or Express, iMovie, and iDVD, provide not only great environments but great integration as well. With them, I get consistent, creative results, something I was seldom able to do on the Windows platform.
Further, it is a simple thing to equip an OS X Mac with a newer G4 processor and create a video conference using an iSight, iChat, and a high speed Internet connection. It takes no more moxy than being able to hook up the iSight camera to a Mac’s Firewire port, calling up iChat, and knowing the other person’s screen name. We did that this Thanksgiving and connected up with my wife’s family. (They’re in rural Missouri, and we’re in Texas.) Her 80 year old parents were able to configure the device and get it running. One of my nephews, who is a Windows advocate, commented that it worked better than anything he had seen on the Windows’ platform. One could use such a simple set-up (at a cost of only $150 per camera) to support video conferences between classrooms within the same school, hook up to a class at a different school, or connect a class to a government or industry expert. (Lest you think that Macs only inhabit academia, I’ll share with you that there are Macs running around at NASA, among other government agencies, including the Office of Homeland Security, which adopted them because of their security advantages.)
Your statement that Macs use different programs and that file transfer is difficult between platform is an anachronism based on the past. I’m writing this to you using Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac and a PowerBook running OS 10.3. I can save this document and transport it to my PC using either my home network or some other means and open it in Office 2000 on my home or office Windows machines without a hitch. Secondly, I do some graphics work using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, desktop publish using In Design, and manage a website using Adobe Go Live. I have these programs on both my Windows machine and a Mac and swap files all the time invisibly. I build presentations in PowerPoint that no one at my job can tell came from a Mac, and I routinely type notes in Word I transfer to my work PC. If you don’t want to invest in Microsoft Office for the Mac (and students and teachers can get the new version which permits three installs for only $150), there is Open Office which can be downloaded for free and runs on both the Mac and the PC. Many Macs come with Apple Works, Apple’s equivalent of Microsoft Works, and the latest versions with come with Microsoft Word filters. It’s true that not every program available on the Windows platform is available for the Mac; but my point is that most major programs do have Mac equivalents, and file swapping is just not that big a problem anymore.
The latest versions of the Mac operating system also network fairly effortlessly with Windows networks. I move files routinely between my Macs and my PC using a wired and wireless Ethernet network and find that the Macs are easier to set up and use than my PC. Strangely but not particularly surprising to me, I can often get into my work network using Virtual Private Networking (VPN) on the Mac when my Windows XP machine will not hook up. There are some places on my work network my Mac does not easily go and I do use my Windows machine to access those. But I can check e-mail and calendar events using Outlook on either machine and access most websites without a problem.
I do keep one Windows PC around to run a few programs (most of them are flight simulators not available on the Mac) and to do a few things on my office network I haven’t figured out how to do with the Mac. Even then, my PC is not Mac adverse. I’m using a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display for its monitor; and it is the cleanest, brightest display I own. I run an application called “Macdrive” that lets me mount Mac formatted disks as if they belonged to Windows (That includes a Mac formatted iPod.). If I owned no PC’s, I could run Windows XP on my Macs using Virtual PC. This is something I do on my PowerBook to run a flight planning application I use when I pilot an airplane. It won’t do for games, but many games are being made available for the Mac platform.
As for the Mac’s shrinking market share, there are plenty of current reports of financial analysts predicting that the Mac may move into double digits in the near future. Your argument that one needs to buy Windows because it’s the big bugger is the equivalent of telling folks to do what is popular instead of what’s best for them. A move to the Mac may not be for everyone, but it certainly has been a good thing for me.
I would encourage any school system to move to them if they’re not there already. They will enhance creativity and “out of the box” thinking more than any PC will; and ultimately, that may be the most important thing about them.
If you haven’t dropped by an Apple Store, you might want to give it a try, just out of journalistic curiosity if for no other reason. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll find. "